Saturday, July 30, 2011

4e Terrain Powers, Part Three

I thought I'd go back to terrain powers today, since I always meant to go back and add more ways to interact with the fantastic terrains of the DMG and DMG 2. Several of them go away when used anyway - if you look at that as a "per encounter" kind of thing, they're already terrain powers in a sense, so there's not really any work to do on my end in getting them there. Doomlight Crystal, Eldritch Influx, and Energy Node are all examples of this.

What I do have for you today is a new application for the Grasping Bog and a way to attack with Quick Sear.

In the Bog's Clutches   At-Will Terrain
If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.
Minor Action
Requirement: An enemy must be prone in an adjacent square of grasping bog.
Check: Athletics check vs. enemy's Athletics check
Success: The target takes a penalty to its next saving throw against the Restrained condition equal to your Strength bonus or -2, whichever is greater.

Alternate Use:

Drowning Bog   Single-Use Terrain
Drowning in sucking mud. What is this, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay?
Standard Action
Requirement: An enemy must be prone in an adjacent square of grasping bog.
Check: Athletics check vs. enemy's Athletics check
Success: The Effect line of Grasping Bog gains the following. "On the first failed save, the creature is dazed (save ends). On the second failed save against the Restrained effect, the creature is unconscious (save ends). On the third failed save against the Restrained effect, the creature is dead."

(It's single-use on the notion that the bog is only so deep, and later targets can't sink far enough in to be dragged down if there's a buoyant body in-place. If there are many squares of grasping bog, obviously the GM could feel free to allow this trick more than once. Also, this would be a kind of awesome way to kill an enemy who was nigh-immune to your other attacks.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

LARP design: Culture Packets

So, for non-LARPers in the crowd, I want to explain culture packets in a few words, so that the rest of this post will make a damn bit of sense. A culture packet is a document describing one of a game's cultures, organizations, or races, with details on a variety of topics: government, land, history, cuisine, faith and/or superstitions, traditions (birth, death, and marriage at minimum), attitudes toward outsiders, clothing... the list goes on. The list goes on so far, in fact, that actual completeness is no more a goal here than in, say, an introductory text on American culture - or the Silmarillion as a text on elvish culture. Instead, the text presents salient details that might influence a player's costuming choices, details of roleplay, and otherwise establishes a common frame of reference and baseline for the culture.

Because the text has to have an end, a culture packet presents a stereotype, with writing quality increasing the nuance of the stereotype. A recent article in Temporary Hit Points put forth one player's realization that playing the stereotypes of a setting really is better than playing the contrarian outlier. There are a lot of good reasons to learn and live by a culture packet in a LARP, while in a tabletop game most players would look at a multi-page race or culture briefing as more than they wanted to read. In a tabletop game, it's reasonably likely that the elf in the party is the only elf in the party, so nothing is lost if other elves do not share common idioms with her. Even if there are two elves in the party, they develop their idioms together, because players in a tabletop game hear 100% of the dialogue that is relevant to the game, while characters in a LARP really do spend time away from one another, and there may well be multiple full teams from the same culture. Verisimilitude demands that these characters have some sense of their shared origins.

Given that core goal, there are two valid but mutually exclusive directions a LARP committee can go with writing culture packets. One model, used by Shattered Isles, King's Gate, and Eclipse, is to solicit volunteers from the playerbase to write the culture packets, preferably (though in SI, not absolutely) volunteers who plan to play PCs from that culture. This model has a number of strong points.
  • Once a group of players has written the culture packet, they have a deep level of investment in that culture and their characters. The ideal volunteers for this kind of work are people who were going to do some serious legwork researching the culture regardless of whether or not they're writing the culture packets, so in a sense they're compiling that text for everyone else. (This is not meant to impugn the creativity of those who write such culture packets.)
  • Plot can get a sense of what their most invested players care about most strongly in their cultures, judging by the focus of the text.
  • Some would argue that adding more creative voices to the melting pot is a benefit in itself.
  • It's a lot of writing that the Plot committee doesn't have to do during the same span of time that the Plot committee is also planning their events.
This method also has some observed weak points.
  • The task has an endpoint, and (in goal if not in practice) that endpoint comes before the first event. The downside to this is that players who join the campaign later, or players who start a second character, do not share that sense of authorship, and elements of the culture that are important to them may see much less emphasis in text and in actual play. This becomes particularly thorny when the culture includes a political or religious organization with a strong emphasis on orthodoxy.
  • Because the writers do not have privileged access to plot secrets, the culture packet has little in the way of secret information known only to that culture.
  • Because the writers do not have privileged access to plot's development of the campaign's timeline, writing the culture's history of interactions with other cultures can be very difficult. From what I've seen there a couple of different ways to handle this.
  1. The committee can write the timeline in detail and hand it to the culture writer. This reduces the amount of work that the committee isn't doing, of course.
  2. The culture writer can include a number of conflicts that are not mentioned in the culture packet of the party of the second part. (This is not recommended, as it subverts the consensual reality that LARPs attempt to construct.)
  3. The committee can mention one or two significant conflicts, and otherwise have a world with vast periods of either peace or lost history.
  • Because the Plot committee may be developing and clarifying their vision of the world even up to a relatively late stage in pre-production, farming out writing makes it more difficult to enact changes that become necessary for inter-cultural consistency. 
  • In all cases, a committee member needs to be in the loop on what the culture writers are doing and providing them with information that it would not be safe for the culture writers to invent. This can come to represent the same workload as if the committee member had written it from the start.
  • One other factor that did not enter into our consideration, but can be an issue in player-written culture packets, is maintaining a balance of powers between the cultures. Much as a plot committee would typically not let a player get away with describing a force of assassins at his beck and call in his character history, the committee also would not want to see one culture given superiority in arms, magic, the arts, or other fields without their direction. This is not the same as every culture believing itself to be the most refined in manners and customs (as every culture of KG believed, providing a constant source of needling one another) - I'm speaking of granting objective superiority, as everyone wants to their culture to be awesome.
The other practical model, obviously, is for the committee to keep the writing in-house. The Wildlands campaign has always used this model, and Dust to Dust is taking a page from its playbook here. From some perspectives, this model seems to indicate a lack of trust in the writing skills of the playerbase, but as this was not remotely a factor in the decision of the DtD committee, I want to lay out the strengths (and weaknesses) of this model.
  • Secrets. Some secrets are known to one culture but not another, and some secrets have the two or three hints that reveal them divided between an equal number of cultures. Some are hidden in plain sight. For a culture packet writer to put the information into the text, including obfuscations, they would need to understand the secret in its entirety. If a committee member took the writer's text and added in secrets later, the importance of those changes is exaggerated, and you wind up with some parts of the text that matter and some parts that don't. An integrated whole requires that all writers be on the same side of the Plot fence and free to receive information.
  • Plot's own vision of the world matures by leaps and bounds in the hothouse of culture writing. It is more important for Plot to have a deep and nuanced grasp of the world's cultures than for a subset of the players interested in a culture to have a similar grasp, in the same way that it is incumbent upon Plot more than upon those same players to provide exposition of that culture to the playerbase as a whole. We have had to write a huge number of NPCs, vignettes, and synopses in the process of writing these culture packets, and the world has been enriched thereby. In my experience, no one is comfortable playing in someone else's sandbox, making it all the more important for these story segments to come from Plot. Not, then, a quality judgment, but an optimization of utility.
  • Integrating even the non-secretive inter-cultural connections - for example, varying versions of legends and accounts of historical events - is easier if all involved writers are permitted to communicate freely on the matter. Sharing culture packets with people not playing a character of that culture is a breach of sportsmanship.
  • The committee doesn't have to wait to see if all of the game's cultures will have representation among the playerbase. Even games with a smaller number of cultures than Dust to Dust have had some cultures unrepresented for many seasons of the campaign, or no volunteers for culture packet writing. This leads to either a player from another culture writing the packet, or a committee member finally giving in and writing the culture packet some number of seasons into the campaign.
  • As the counterpoint to an increased number of creative voices in the melting pot: limiting the number of creative voices to "more than one but fewer than all" improves the tonal clarity and reduces the complexity of communication. To put that another way, a committee of twenty may have so many conflicting voices as to become cacophony rather than harmony.
  • We have had players submit draft character histories prior to the publication of the culture packets. Some of the things they have sought to include in their character histories have been significant enough to appear in the culture packet. By comparison, a PC-side culture writer would not have access to the uncensored versions of character histories. (This is a specific case of the first point on this list.)
But really, everything after the first reason is incidental.

As to weaknesses:
  • It is a lot of work. A really lot of work. I can't really overstate how much work it is. The level of preparatory work I've had to do for events in the past, even events that I'm running, has been trivial compared to the labor that has gone into culture packets.
  • Games using the other model have historically not had culture packets available at the start of play, so players have had no choice but to send in character histories prior to their publication. Because we do plan to release culture packets prior to the start of play, many players have expressed the feeling that they cannot write character histories without culture packets. This is an issue of perception, understandable but unfortunate, despite the fact that we have encouraged draft versions of character histories.
  • Because of the level of detail that the committee is putting into the culture packets, players have felt unusually reluctant to assume or make up even very basic details, such as the names of the hamlets where they were born. They also wonder about details it has never occurred to us to address - but then, this is just as likely to be a problem with any limited number of writers preparing text for a non-limited number of readers.
Even from early stages, we preferred the strengths and weaknesses of the second option to the first, but this decision was not made as a criticism of any other game's decisions. This is simply what was right for the game we are running.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Five Kinds of Plot

I've been playing a lot of Avadon: The Black Fortress lately. I'll be saving my full review for another time, as I haven't yet finished the game, but it's gotten me thinking about the kinds of plotlines and stories that drive scenes within games, and games as a whole. Before I get into this, I want to point out that I may use terms incorrectly, even though I am an English major. It's kind of amazing how little time my high school and undergraduate classes spent on defining high-level terms and talking about their interplay. I'm sure these are all things I'll need to learn if I ever decide to get a graduate degree in English. Moving along...

I think that there are five kinds of plotlines that we really see in games, and I'll try to point out parallels in genre fiction. I invite commenters to point out categories within this system of definitions that I've overlooked. Unsurprisingly, there are areas where these categories bleed together, making classification more disputable. To a certain extent, this relates to the classic seven basic conflicts, but a lot of those get lumped together here because of how they are applied in gaming and genre fiction. There are also categories of plot at stake here that just don't matter in literature (because everyone is under authorial control), but matter hugely in games.

Main Plot

Main plot is the story the GM has shown up to tell, in a lot of cases. It's the one where the dark lord needs to be thrown down, where the dragon needs to be slain, where the secrets of who's behind the attacks on the village need to be uncovered. This is conflict driven by people who are off-camera until the last few minutes of their lives, or (if the GM/story gives them a way to get away) only occasionally. Maniacal laughter is often involved. It seems that the existence of main plot is central to why genre fiction will never be truly literary. Failing to accept this is part of why I am a bad English major, as Real Literature Is Strictly Character Driven. Main plot is essentially the same from one game medium to the next, and its parallels in genre fiction are entirely obvious.

Character Plot

Character plot is the story that the players have brought in on their own: their personal drama, baggage, and connections. If you want to see character plot at its most pure, go into a chat- or forum-based roleplay environment in which the characters don't have any greater concerns to discuss or roleplay about. For want of interesting conflict, they will start telling each other their character histories and devising personal relationships. Don't get me wrong, though: character plot isn't a bad thing. Character plot is most recognizable by its exclusively personal scale; in games, you see this as a single NPC showing up to talk to a single PC, typically a relative or NPC romantic partner. Some of the most gut-wrenching plot in all of King's Gate was character plot for my team (hi, Pipistrella!). The conflict of character plot is chiefly conflict between protagonists, since most gaming has multiple protagonists of equal stature. I would venture to state that a lot of people mean character plot when they talk about roleplaying as a concept.

Character plot is hugely useful for LARP plot committees, because it gets the players to entertain themselves while the plot committee works on doing its next thing. Conversely, there's almost nothing categorical that plot committees can do to facilitate or drive engaging character plot, so it's hard to teach a committee to do this well. The best I can say is to create an interesting, conflict-filled setting and subject the playerbase to a high degree of external pressure; they'll probably take care of the rest. On the downside, this is where Drama Llamas come from in gaming.

Tabletop gaming sees a significantly different style of character plot, if it's there at all. Our Pendragon campaign had a lot of it, probably more than I've seen in any other tabletop game I've been in. This did a lot to give the game the emotional weight that made it archetypal. I can't make blanket statements about gamer chicks causing character plot, but in the case of this campaign, the women players were the ones pulling the campaign's emphasis onto character plot. It is certainly possible to run a tabletop campaign that has no character plot at all and have it be just fine, but in general I find that a modest degree of conflict within the party does more good than harm. (It's not hard to go over that mark and into Bad News, though.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mansions of Madness: Informal Review, and some Armchair Design


Yesterday, I played my first-ever game of Mansions of Madness with Kainenchen, Stands-in-Fire, and Mrs. Stands-in-Fire. None of us had played before or read the rules exhaustively, though Stands-in-Fire had gone over them a bit - so he played the Keeper. This review, then, is based entirely on player-side experience; I haven't so much as opened the Keeper's Guide, and there are going to be big gaps in my understanding of how the Keeper actually functions. The extremely short form of the review is that while I found a few items in their design questionable, I have a deep appreciation for what the game attempts, and I expect to play at least four more times in the future.

That note highlights the first of the game's strong approaches to story: there are five different map arrangements included in the box. The map is made up of rectangles of various sizes that are the rooms of a building; the map arrangements combine these so that doors meet up with doors and the building is put together in a more-or-less logical fashion. Each map has associated event cards to create the plot for that story. The replay value that is obvious on the surface is five sessions - not bad, considering how completely different those future games will be. Especially in a competitive game (where all players have a strong incentive to vary their gameplay, resulting in different outcomes in the emergent narrative), five different games in one box is pretty good - but that's just the beginning for this game.

The number of available plays diversifies wildly when you get to the Keeper's pregame decision points for the story. The Keeper makes three decisions, each of which has (I think) three possible answers. These choices change things on both the narrative side and the strictly-gameplay side. In this regard, the game has a strength for narrative that kind of blows my mind. I was expecting something a little closer to Descent, where the action is nonstop but the narrative is almost self-consciously trite. Instead, I got something with clarity, very strong structure, and some interesting ways of ratcheting up the tension.

Playing through "The Fall of House Lynch," a lot of the minor goals along the way are finding the keys to get through certain doors. Locked doors are a pretty basic way of gating a map, but I appreciated the way the game directed us generally from one minor goal to the next. It's possible that some of the bloom would be off the rose for this particular point in future gameplay; there is a risk of feeling like the game is just leading you around by the nose. The underlying problem here, then, is that if you don't pursue those plot goals with single-minded devotion, you're losing ground with the Event timer. In our case, we lost about three rounds exploring the dining room and kitchen, and I think all we got for our trouble was the Fire Extinguisher and the Lantern.

The Event cards and associated timer are one of the game's two key ways of ratcheting up the tension. Less appealingly, the Event cards that we saw just do different degrees of bad things to the Investigators, and they get the worse outcomes if they are following the plot and keeping up with the Event timer. I suspect strongly that this mechanic is intended to re-level the playing field slightly if one side is getting way ahead (it does, after all, punish the Investigators less if they're not doing well). It's also highly genre-appropriate for learning more about the mysteries and the Mythos only making things worse for the Investigators, but it means that victory incentives (again, in the one game we played) work against players going along with the plot and trying to solve the mystery. The particular victory condition we played for is


(SUPER SPOILERY! That's why there's a jump break here!)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mage: Hidden Weapons

For reasons having everything to do with Dust to Dust, I started thinking about how a character in Mage would conceal a weapon from various levels of searching. While I don't have specific plans along these lines in my own Mage game, characters might very well want to sneak a weapon into a meeting, and magic seems like a pretty good tool to accomplish that task. (Aside from a spell's ability to deal Aggravated damage after a certain point, Weaponry and Firearms offer larger dice pools than direct damage spells in many circumstances, assuming you've bought skills along those lines... and you don't make Paradox rolls to fire a gun under most circumstances.)

Some Arcana have self-evident ways to accomplish this goal, while others require more thought or combination with other Arcana. I seriously doubt that any of these will be Covert, except for (arguably) Mind.

Matter is the most self-evident of all. Three dots: Transmute Earth! Yay, that metal weapon is now something socially acceptable to carry, such as a bracelet or (perhaps rather bulky) necklace. Or, if you're feeling saucy, four dots: Lesser Transmogrification turns your 9mm into the water in your bottle, or the shampoo that the TSA is going to confiscate anyway.

Space is almost as self-evident, though the core book doesn't have anything quite right. I would call this a completely reasonable three-dot Vulgar effect - a kind of micro-version of Pocket Realm and Safe Keeping. This is strongly within Space's theme, so I'd want them to handle this task about as easily as Matter did.

Prime plays a secondary but important role in hiding weapons: once you've cast the spell to hide the weapon, you need to hide the spell that hides the weapon, at least if you're going to be around other mages. Prime 2's Transform Aura is either the right way to do this, or a basis for the right way to do this.

To handle the primary function of hiding the weapon with Prime, Phantasm (Prime 3) is probably your go-to effect, unless the disguise needs to stand up to extended rough handling. If it does, then use Prime 4's Phantasmal Weapon - either tweak the spell to create a durable masking illusion, or ditch the mundane weapon and fight with a Phantasmal Weapon.

Life doesn't bother. Life gives the mage claws and superstrength. If you're not satisfied with that, though, try Fantasia (Life 5) - hollow out a portion of your body and hide the weapon there. It's ridiculous, but this is just not Life's strong suit. Honing the Form (Life 3) can increase the caster's Dexterity by a large amount, helping his Dex + Larceny roll for Sleight of Hand - other than claws, this is Life's best course that I can see.

Death handles this task sort of clumsily, but decisively. Ghostly Object (Death 3), cast on a weapon you don't need in day-to-day life, makes it a Twilight object. Touch of the Grave (Death 2) makes it somewhat fragile, but otherwise usable as per normal.

Spirit has a solution that is much like Death's: Cast Rouse Spirit (Spirit 3) on a weapon, followed with some finagling to get the weapon into an appropriate location in Twilight. Then cast Reaching (also Spirit 3) to use that weapon. This is intensive in advance planning and is Vulgar, but (unless I misunderstand the interactions of Twilight objects and non-Twilight opponents) pretty effective.

Mind has two really fun ways to solve this problem. The first is that even when a mage has no dots in Larceny and a rather poor Dexterity, the observer doing the searching is going to have a tough time if you Befuddle (Mind 4 - and Covert!) him and significantly reduce his Wits or Composure. Breach the Vault of Memory (Mind 4) is sort of a brute-force way to make him forget seeing a weapon, but it too is Covert. The graceful way to do this is to never get searched, thanks to Emotional Urging (Mind 2, still Covert), or to trick the senses of the searcher with Impostor (Mind 3, and yeah, still Covert - you want at least two successes, to cover sight and touch; third priority goes to sound).

Forces is (as you might expect) unsubtle here. Invisible Object (Forces 2) explains itself, but you might still have to worry about getting patted down - Invisible Object won't do anything for its volume. The obvious followup to handle that is Telekinesis (Forces 3) to tow it behind you; the classy variation on that theme is Autonomous Servant (Forces 3 and Mind 1), to carry the weapon and offer it when needed.

The one thing Forces does better than any other Arcana in this general theme is foiling mechanical weapon detection (though Lesser Transmogrification in Matter 4 certainly makes a weapon stop being metal) - better in that the benefit applies to the whole party's weapons. If Science is your thing, use Transmission (Forces 2 - Covert!) to send false data to the metal detector; if not, short out the whole machine with Control Electricity (Forces 3 - also Covert). The latter solution is likely to lead to a pat-down search, though, and that's inconvenient if you don't have a backup plan. I would personally allow a mage with Forces higher than 2 to use amped-up versions of Transmission to cover shortcomings in the Science department.

Fate handles this issue sort of similarly to my idea for Life's Honing the Form solution, but instead of improving his Dexterity, the Fate mage improves his chance of success with various Fate manipulations - starting with Exceptional Luck (Fate 2 - Covert, but with an annoying Mana cost) at the low end. Lucky Coin (Fate 3, Covert) is entirely reasonable, Superlative Luck (Fate 3, Vulgar, Mana cost) is sort of excessive, and Probable Cause (Fate 4, Vulgar, Mana cost) is just beating destiny over the head. The nice thing about Lucky Coin is that it stacks with any one of the other three spells I've listed here.

Time follows Fate's lead, unsurprisingly, but at lower Arcana. Perfect Timing (Time 1) is a solid choice for increasing that Dex + Larceny pool, and Glimpsing the Future (Time 2) is the same but better. The stylish solution, though, is to cast Temporal Stutter on your weapon, just before the inspection.

Then there's the really stylish solution that combines Fate, Time, and Matter.

Belated Birthday Present (Time 4, Fate 2, Matter 2)
The mage shunts an object forward in time until just the right moment.
Practice: Patterning
Action: Extended
Duration: Conditional (p. 150)
Aspect: Vulgar
Cost: None
The targeted object disappears entirely until the mage performs or experiences the specified condition. It cannot be detected or retrieved by other means; it does not exist at intervening points in time.
Rote Dice: Intelligence + Occult + Time

A variant that uses Space:

Nothing Up My Sleeve (Space 4, Time 2, Fate 2)
The mage hides the object in a dimensional pocket until just the right moment. Not for use on lagomorphs or doves of any kind.
Practice: Patterning
Action: Instant
Duration: Conditional
Aspect: Vulgar
Cost: None
The targeted object returns to hand (or drops to the ground if the caster does not have a free hand or does not wish to catch it) when the mage performs or experiences the specified condition. It could potentially be retrieved by other means, through the use of Space magic.
Rote Dice: Dexterity + Larceny + Space


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

4e Rules Variant: Healing Surges

As I've established pretty thoroughly in this blog, I'm interested in 4e rules hacks, tweaks, and general brainstorming. This is because I believe the most essential part of 4e is the way information is presented in the form of powers; everything else is worth examining for other applications. The 3e Unearthed Arcana was one of my favorite books released in the entire edition, just for the kitbashing and genre-bending fuel it provided. Since I don't think WotC will release a 4e version (though the DMG 2 was a nod in that direction), I'm interested in compiling as many rules variants as possible as another Harbinger project.

Healing Surges

One of the most interesting variations I've heard about is a change in how players recover healing surges. The problem with healing surges as we have them right now is that short of unusual rules (perhaps modeled as a disease track), PCs cannot suffer injuries that take longer than one extended rest to heal. The game wants to get players back into the action as soon as possible, rather than running the risk of requiring downtime and interrupting the flow of the game. For the high-octane game that 4e wants to be, this is a reasonable choice, but there are other ways it could work that might create a grittier feel.

I like the core idea behind healing surges, because they are a solution to 3e's issue with a wand of cure light wounds: for a relatively trivial investment of cash, characters always start every fight at full health, and this does not cost any spell slots or any other resource that can really suffer attrition. (At even mid-levels, 15 gold per 1d8+1 healed is not enough to count as attrition.) There are other fixes to 3e's problem that are worth discussing, but they're a matter for some future post. With a lot of these ideas, characters may be at full hit points the next day, but getting there cost them some or all of the surges they got for that day; you'll need more time before you're ready to go back into the field.

Versions:
1. PCs recover one (1) healing surge per extended rest, and cannot benefit from more than one such extended rest at a time. This does mean that at most, you'll need about four days to go from negative hit points to full health. The problem that I have with it is that a paladin or warden will take up to a week longer to return to their full complement of healing surges than, say, a wizard.
2. PCs recover a class-linked number of healing surges per day, typically 1-3 (with a possible +1 for paragon tier and +2 for epic tier). This means that very tough classes will take about as long to get to the maximum number of healing surges as a more fragile character, give or take.
3. PCs recover healing surges from an extended rest equal to their Constitution bonus, minimum 1. This is probably more benefit than Constitution needs, so I don't recommend this.
4. PCs recover a number of healing surges based on a level-scaling Endurance check, or another character's Heal check on them.
Easy DC - 1 surge
Moderate DC - 2 surges
Hard DC - 3 surges
Hard DC + 5 - 4 surges
5. PCs recover healing surges from an extended rest if and only if they are resting in an inn (or equivalent), or are receiving extended-care medical attention in someplace that is not a dungeon. This focuses the effect on attrition over the course of a wilderness adventure, and would be a good first step toward making 4e work in a hexcrawl.
6. PCs have specific conditions, chosen at character creation or available as class features, that replenish healing surges. (This would need to be combined with at least one of the above ideas.) Here I'm imagining something like nWoD's Virtues and Vices that replenish Willpower, or Spirit of the Century's Compels that replenish Fate points. One game I know of rewarded the emotional high of quest goals with healing surges, which is really where I'm coming from with this idea.
7. For a sufficiently episodic game: PCs can only recover healing surges at the definite end of an adventure. This is the most like a TV show or series of action movies, where the characters are (almost) always back to full health by the next episode; particularly serious injuries might be plot complications for the next episode, but only if the writers feel like it.

I think this #7 pretty close to how the designers intend for players to approach 4e anyway. One of the toughest lessons I had to learn over the course of my two-year 4e campaign is how to run adventures that demand the players take on 3-5 encounters in a day, rather than running 1-2 larger encounters in a day. Incidentally, this is one of my problems with 4e; it needs to be run in its own patterns, and deviating from those patterns causes headaches or challenge-scaling issues. Which brings me back to why I'm writing this in the first place: breaking those unbreakable patterns.

Problems:
1. Any of these would hugely increase the usefulness of daily healing powers that restore hit points "as if" the target had spent a healing surge. (I can live with this; my players have not tended to see those powers as particularly useful under current rules.)
2. A paladin's ability to heal by laying on hands is heavily nerfed by reducing the paladin's supply of healing surges. (Obviously this only matters if someone plays a paladin. Even then, the point was to reduce the availability of healing somewhat, and the game is still fair.)
3. Monsters or effects that drain healing surges are really awful. I would have to think carefully before ever using any kind of wight, and then only as a small part of the overall encounter - or treat standard wights as elites and elite wights as solos, in that their hits represent so much that cannot be healed that day.
4. The new Vampire class that WotC has released doesn't work with this at all, because its supply of healing surges is central to the class's mechanic. (This is a non-issue in my gaming group.)